Height: 13.500 cm
Room 22: Alexander the Great
Terracotta 'Tanagra' figure of an old nurse
Greek, about 300 BC
Said to be from Tanagra, possibly from Athens, Greece
Perhaps a comic actor
This stooped old woman with hunched shoulders holds a large, naked baby firmly in her arms. She wears a voluminous, sleeved chiton (tunic) and most of her hair is contained in a sakkos (a bag-like headdress). Her face, with its raised eyebrows, sagging, wrinkled cheeks and chin, and frame of snail-shell curls is distinctly theatrical. The 'Old Nurse' was a popular character in Greek comic drama from the late fifth century BC onwards. While earlier terracotta actor figures are clearly characterised by their padded costumes or obvious masks, it can be difficult to decide whether later examples like this represent an actor or the real-life character on which the comic type was based.
It is uncertain where this figure was made, as similar old nurse figures have been found at both Athens and Tanagra. However, the high quality of the modelling and the appearance of the clay suggest that this example may be Athenian.